Updated December 18, 2009 By Bethany Waggoner Amy Pearl is a woman on a mission to answer many of the questions that have plagued civilization since it came into existence. But Amy isn’t satisfied with just any old solution—she’s looking for innovative, effective, sustainable and just ways to overcome the greatest of humanity’s dilemmas (poverty, hunger, homelessness—just to name a few). After a successful career in the tech industry, Amy left to found Springboard Innovation, a non-profit that tackles these questions daily, supporting and creating organizations and programs that teach our global citizens how to apply critical thinking with dramatic results. SE: What inspired you to found Springboard Innovation and theReVisioning Value Conference? AP: The inspiration to create the organization came about six years ago. I was an Intel, working with the Education Group and while our primary focus was on teaching and learning, using technology, I had met a number of education ministers and leaders from other countries. What I noticed was an interest in helping their people become better innovators and better problem solvers in order to solve their own community problems and move their countries forward. We created an education program, at Intel, that was tangential to our primary focus—it was called design and discovery—and it related to a pre-engineering and problem-solving curriculum. And people really liked it, they wanted to see it used in other countries, but since it wasn’t core mission for our group, we had to keep it where it was. I got more and more interested in this idea of teaching people to become better problem-solvers and more innovative. That was the beginning point—education and helping people who didn’t have those skills. After some time, and the nagging desire to do more within that scope, I left Intel and started the Springboard Innovation. SE: Tell us about the concept of an intersection of purpose and profit—and how it plays out in the world. AP: This is a very very interesting time. I had a conversation with a young man from Unitus’ non-profit and investment arm. He is building funds—so he goes around asks corporations and big businesses for money to invest in organizations that are driving social change through vehicles like micro-finance, which was popularized by Muhammad Yunus, who is a modern-day poster child for social innovation. I said to him, “So you’ve been following this trend of micro-finance, right?” And he told me that they had, but that recently the market had become quite saturated. There are currently 120 channels out there for funding micro-finance operations—which is enormous. It’s astonishing. Micro-finance, a tool used to pull people up out of poverty, is getting, on average, a 30-40 percent return on the investor’s dollar—which is also incredible. It’s a really good case study for the idea of purpose and profit coming together. It’s a pervasive example of how you can serve the needs of the very poorest and still make a fantastic financial return on that investment. SE: How does the idea of creating social profit fit in with sustainability? AP: Sustainability was defined, in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights back in 1948, as solving problems today in ways that don’t prohibit future generations from solving their problems. The notion of sustainability is to do things that are lasting and can be kept up in ways that provide options going forward. In terms of looking at social or environmental organizations, whether it’s building a wind turbine or designing a social program, if it’s designed well it will promote that on-going livability for both people and planet. It should also have a financial sustainability factor built into it as well, so that new strategy or service can be maintained. And all of this replaces that which is unjust. The goal is to go upstream from the problem and get ahead of it. What is wrong with the system that it is actually allowing and maintaining issues like homelessness and hunger? What is the real root issue here? There is something that’s not at equilibrium in the status quo—something creating injustice. What we try to do is create organizations that, in order for them to be sustainable—and to sustain what we want to sustain in this world—have to get in front of the problem with a new kind of solution which is both effective and just. These are very deep problems. When we talk about social innovation, that discussion has to include environmental, financial and educational solutions. SE: Can you give us a few examples of fresh, innovative solutions that you’ll be discussing at the ReVV Conference in April? AP: There are some very interesting things going on around organizations developing finance tools. These tools are bringing in a lot of capital for those change organizations. Something I find very intriguing is that there are a bunch of organizations that are becoming for-profit organizations rather than non-profit organizations, and attracting substantial amounts of money to move the solutions ahead faster and farther. That creates a new dynamic and opportunities for partnerships between money and what matters. And it hasn’t existed before to this degree. There’s a new interest on the investor’s side, even philanthropic investors, that says, “we want to make a difference AND make money.” There’s been a flip of circumstance. Now, change organizations have what the investors want—opportunities to make profit—whereas it used to be the other way around. Investors used to have the money and the change organizations were hoping for some sort of fixed charitable giving. It’s completely transformed the relationship between the two sides and it’s providing more capital to bring in expertise, funding for marketing and operations—which grants often don’t cover. It’s also changed how we look at the questions: • How do you make an organization “investable?” • How do you create a world changing organization? Taking these questions into account, some really exciting tools have come to the change community over the past few years that will be paradigm shifters and that we’ll be talking about at the conference. Amy is the founder and executive director of Springboard Innovation, a Portland-based non-profit specializing in the support and creation of social change organizations and programs. She is also the founder of the new ReVisioning Value (ReVV) Conference, which will take place on April 26-27, 2010 in Portland, Oregon at The Gerding Theater at The Armory. The ReVV Conference is a two-day conference geared towards educating citizens on social change and investment, and also including the community in finding solutions. Monday’s agenda is a full-day schedule of educational sessions with leading social investment experts. Tuesday focuses on putting that knowledge into action through workshops, and discussing and brainstorming solutions for local, national and international issues. Very Early Bird specials are good through February 1, 2010, so get your tickets today for major savings!
- $210 Very Early Bird Full Day Main Conference Only (Apr 26th – The Gerding Theater)
- $310 Very Early Bird Full Day Main Conference + Half-Day Workshop (Apr 26th + 27th)
- $199 Very Early Bird Half-Day Workshop Only (Apr 27th – Venue Pearl)
Additional conference registration information can be found at:http://www.revisioningvalue.org Visit the Springboard Innovation website to learn more about Amy’s work: http://www.springboardinnovation.org Link to article